Living with Chronic Pain

The Importance of Cultural Competence in Pain Management


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cultural competence is “…the integration and transformation of knowledge about individuals and groups of people into specific standards, policies, practices, and attitudes used in appropriate cultural settings to increase the quality of services; thereby producing better outcomes.” In the realm of pain management, cultural competence is a medical professional’s ability to provide appropriate and adequate pain management in the context of an individual’s cultural beliefs, behaviors and needs.

Cultural competence is essential in pain management for several reasons:

  • Health care disparities still exist. White individuals are more likely to receive better health care than Black, Hispanic American, Indigenous, or Asian individuals.
  • Unfortunately, biases and stereotypes (whether conscious or subconscious) about various cultures still exist in today’s society. The health care field is no exception. If a health care provider is biased against an individual’s culture, lack of trust, emotional distress, and increased physical pain may develop in that individual.
  • Some cultures are very stoic regarding pain. Their facial expressions may remain neutral despite being in severe pain.
  • Different cultures perceive pain in different ways. For example, some may see pain as a struggle to overcome. Others may see it as a test of faith or penance for past sins.
  • Language barriers can prevent a health care provider from thoroughly understanding an individual’s pain experience, which may interfere with adequate care and pain relief.

To best support and treat individuals with chronic pain, health care providers and pain clinics must develop and maintain cultural competence.

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